Several students have recently dropped by office hours or emailed me for internship and job search advice. While I’m writing this the week of the Spring career fair and a week before the Tech & Entrepreneurship Fair, I’m also posting this online to share this advice with future students.
Do be sure to show up at campus career events. Even if you don’t think you’re qualified for jobs, definitely check out what’s on offer and consider attending an event, at a minimum, as prep for future years. This’ll give you a chance to tell a future interviewer “I’ve been interested in your firm since I saw you at the Career Fair when I was a Freshman.” And it never hurts to reach out to see if there’s an opportunity for you now. Remember what Wayne Gretsky, the greatest hockey player of all time, once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.
UNDERCLASSMEN — THINK STARTUPS:
Startups are really great firms for underclassmen to target because they often have so much to do, but simply don’t have enough people power to get all things done. Startups often rarely have a formal campus recruiting effort, so reaching out to a startup will often be what’s needed. Reaching out shows initiative and that’s what employers want! Startups usually have trouble recruiting upperclassmen because the talent is wooed by big name firms with lavish recruiting teams that fast-track promising interns to future hiring slots. And a smart startup that gives a freshman or sophomore a shot and gives them a good experience knows the firm might be able to convince talent to come back for another year or to consider the firm when looking for a full-time job.
HOW TO FIND STARTUPS:
My university has a Tech & Startup Career Fair each Spring. Sometimes the city you’re in may have additional career fairs outside of your university.
Every city has a publication (or several) that track the startup scene. In Boston it’s BostInno at:
They’ve also got a weekly newsletter you can sign up for at:
TechStars also compiles a page with links to Regional Startup Digest Info: https://www.startupdigest.com/digests
The Boston Globe’s Innovation Beat newsletter is also a great way to find out about startups & recent funding rounds (again, startups with new cash are always looking to hire).
Also check the “Rocketship Startup List”. These firms are in that Goldilocks space where their future prospects are looking very good and they have hired enough experienced folks to provide good mentorship, but they’re also small enough that a scrappy young hire can make an impact and build a career. If I were graduating today & looking for a job, I’d apply to many of the firms on this list. Just scroll to find the Airtable inside:
Know when the hunting is good: Firms that raise a round of funding (in startups it goes angel/seed for first funding, then rounds are lettered: series A, B, C, etc.) have just brought in some new capital, so they’re going to be expanding, likely hiring, and they can be good targets when looking for work. Have you read an article about a cool firm doing interesting stuff? Follow the firm and manager on Twitter, or reach out to them on LinkedIn. Also look to see if the firm has additional accounts — a careers or recruiting Twitter account, a technical blog, etc. — and be sure to follow those. Often the CEO gets all the press, but a lower-level manager who gets an inbound email or other outreach from a student is likely quite flattered that someone is interested in their work. Reaching out is a great way to send a signal that you’re interested in a firm / industry / career.
ONLINE IS THE NEW RESUME:
You’ll be searched for online. Do you have a Twitter account? You should. And your tweets and followers list should reflect your interests in an industry and career. If you’re a developer, you should be following the leading YouTube tech educators in your field, as well as any impressive CEOs, role models, startups, tool providers, etc. Purge stuff that would be embarrassing and upgrade your presence to professional level. Make sure you’ve got a LinkedIn page + read tips on making your LinkedIn page employer-attractive. If you’re in tech, make sure you’ve got your GitHub page and Stack Overflow account linked. Most employers expect early work on these sites will be ‘starter/beginner’ level, but work here also conveys your seriousness and interest in building a career as a technologist. It’s even better if you’ve contributed to an open source effort, posted full projects, and showed you can be helpful on StackOverflow. And if you’ve been mean on StackOverflow or impolite in YouTube or other comments, clean that up and fix your attitude. No one wants to hire a relentlessly negative snark monster, ego-maniac, or perpetual cynic. Everyone wants to work with someone friendly, helpful, and who shows clear motivation. Anyone who wants to hurt other people online or off should seek counseling before seeking a job.
YOU HAVE SKILLS:
Underclassmen often think they can’t get a job because they haven’t taken advanced courses. If you can learn fast, and can learn on your own and don’t need much direction to get something done, then this is a BIG plus. Think of how you can sell this. You can research, evaluate, report, present — all useful skills. And you can acquire and apply new skills — even better if you come with examples of how you’ve done this (did you learn a skill for a campus job, club, or course that went beyond what was required?).
COME WITH IDEAS OF WHAT YOU CAN DO:
With a startup you can investigate the state of their social media strategy. If it’s lacking (and most are), you can suggest that you learn WordPress in a weekend and put together ideas for a blog, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat presence, and other engagement (remember, firms like HubSpot have all sorts of ideas on good “inbound marketing” techniques). Can the startup use more analysis of competitors? Best practice analysis of aspirant firms that aren’t direct competitors? Chances are in this stage of your career you’re really good at putting together reports / PowerPoint presentations, so offer up those skills! Also — QA (Quality & Assurance) Testing is essentially trying to “break” the software or provide usability feedback on what should be fixed / changed. You can learn QA testing techniques online. Every developer can benefit from having someone try to “break” their app/website/software or uncover flaws before end-users do. And startups often don’t have a QA team.
DEMONSTRATE YOUR SKILLS:
Have you learned things quickly on your own? Are you taking aggressive courses (like BCSwift) and learning quickly? Share that! Also — if there are skills you want, remember there are LOTS of places online to learn. Google has a ton of free courses in data science & AI. Udemy is one of the ways I learned Swift originally. And while many of the Udemy courses look expensive, if you sign up, chances are in a week or two there’ll be $10 and $15 course sales. You can usually trust course quality based on the Udemy reviews. And there are all sorts of other great tutorials on YouTube, via blogs, Medium, etc. Sometimes it helps to think of ways to nudge someone from trying to hire for short-term skills and instead think of the type of person they really want (learns quickly, good team member, self-starter). If you have stories or examples that demonstrate you have quickly acquired useful skills, all the better!
One of the best ways to show your interest in a firm is do some upfront research. The opposite is also true — the kiss of death is showing up for an interview & never having visited the company’s website, Twitter feed, blogs, recruiting pages, etc. Check out their website press room (if they have one), read their blog, search for the firm in Google news, follow them on Twitter (if your High School buddy dis’ed Twitter as something ‘uncool’, they’re a pinhead. Twitter is where the tech industry goes to learn from one another — don’t listen to that person). If the firm you’re looking into is a startup, info on their funding and advisors is likely in Crunchbase. The most common negative criticism I hear from employers re: interviewees is that a person wasn’t prepared — hadn’t even bothered to visit resources online, read up, do some initial investigation. The most common praise I hear is “wow, that student was prepared”. Be the latter, not the former.
USE THE CAREER CENTER
Talking about yourself is a very unnatural skill. We run away from people at parties that always talk about themselves. So practice can help you figure out how to put your best foot forward. The career center can help with mock interview sessions, resume workshops, and more. You need to get over any initial fear you’ve got, or apprehension because of how weird mock interviews feel, and definitely practice these skills.
USE CLUBS & UPPERCLASSMEN FOR ADVICE
Know someone who has gotten great internships or a cool job? Ask her for advice! It could be an RA, a Teaching Assistant, or other student advisor. Don’t be afraid to reach out — again imagine how this feels. If a bright-eyed underclassman says “you’ve done something really cool — can you share with me how you went about achieving your goal?” someone is likely to think highly of you and take your outreach as a compliment.
Clubs often also have similar interview and resume development skill sessions. And many alumni return to work with clubs to offer tips on technical interviewing, etc. BE SURE you’re in key clubs. At Boston College for students in tech, this would be the Computer Science Society, Women in Computer Science, the Women Innovators Network, MakeBC, and the Information Systems Academy, plus events the Shea Center runs, among others (note to dudes — the women-focused clubs often open events up to those who have “y-chromosomes”, too, and they’re some of the most active clubs running some of the best events on campus).
CONSIDER THE INTERVIEWER’S PERSPECTIVE
When interviewing, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. They’re looking for someone they can work with every day. They’ll likely be spending more time with co-workers than they do with their spouses and children. They may be relying on you to help grow the firm so that their own ownership stake in the firm grows and is worth more, their stock options gain value, so that they can perform and get promoted, and so that the company does well and all can earn bonuses. Think about how you can add to this and try to communicate this to the person sitting opposite you. Smile, show enthusiasm, lean forward, and give good body language feedback. In group interviews, pay attention to how the best interviewees come across and emulate tactics that work well for your personality.
USE LINKEDIN — BUT USE IT EFFECTIVELY
Most folks in industry advise my students to keep outreach email short and direct. Four lines might work: compliment, compliment, ask, thank you. Also — a cold ask for ‘a job’ is often a turn off. They don’t know you. Instead identifying an alum who is in your goal career and writing — “you’re exactly where I hope to be — I’d love to meet you for coffee for 15 mins to get advice on how you got there” is much better. You’re giving a compliment and not making them feel obliged to help you with more than advice. And if you shine, you are on their radar and just might walk away with leads.
Do follow up with thank yous. An email thank you is fine. Hand-written is even better. No thank you is absolutely terrible. It not only harms you, it’s embarrassing to your institution and your advocates.
Think before you reach out: Is the person I’m trying to reach spectacularly busy (e.g. a CEO, venture partner, or very well known alumnus or person in industry that everyone knows and admires?) Perhaps that’s not the best first-contact or broad advice contact. If you’re not razor sharp when reaching out to someone at the very top of the game, you may look bad. Also — always think about what you might be able to offer. “I’d be happy to connect you with our students / clubs if there are job opportunities”. “If you’d ever be interested in inspiring others on campus, I’d be happy to schedule a Zoom with our club”, etc.
Alumni can also be extremely useful if you’re a student who has an extra hurdle to overcome. If you’re an international student and need to deal with green card issues, have concern on accent or language bias, someone who’s gone through similar challenges can usually offer very helpful advice, and most who have been challenged really love to pay it forward. Faculty and administrators from similar backgrounds may also be able to help.
FIRMS REALLY DO WANT TO BE MORE DIVERSE
It’s not just lip-service, diverse teams come up with better, more robust ideas and help prevent ham-handed gaffes that might be inadvertently inconsiderate or alienating to potential customers. In tech, in particular, there’s simply not enough talent to go around, and EVERYONE wants to see a bigger and more diverse pipeline.
Because of this, many large firms have aggressive initiatives to develop and pursue tech talent from underrepresented groups early and to develop this talent over four years. This applies to women and non-binary people in tech, as well as technologists of color. If you’re part of an underrepresented group, see if firms you’re interested in have special programs that cultivate talent that you can apply for. Also — many large firms have internal groups focused on supporting underrepresented groups. Poke around online to find out who runs these efforts and reach out to leaders directly. This can be a great way to distinguish yourself ahead of a simple resume submission and it shows you’re being scrappy. Consider groups like the Grace Hopper Conference, CODE2040 for black and latino techies, and similar (there are MANY and upperclassmen, career services, and campus offices that serve underrepresented groups can be very helpful in discovering opportunities). Also — by volunteering to mentor groups of K-12 students, you’ll learn vital skills that will help you communicate as a senior team member yourself, so if you have time, also start paying it forward by sharing what you know and helping those who want to be where you are right now.
Have additional ideas? Share in comments below or share via a tweet.
Happy Job and Internship Hunting!
Prof. John Gallaugher teaches Technology and Business at Boston College. All lectures for his Beginner to Full Stack Swift/iOS development course are available on YouTube (it’s taught as a flipped class, with lectures online). He also teaches Physical Computing (think wearables, robots, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi), and he writes one of the leading Information Systems Textbooks used in business schools worldwide. You can reach him on Twitter via: @gallaugher.